Early birds that ventured across Powell Street were treated to a two-on-two battle Sunday morning at the Anolon Chef Challenge: As Seen On TV, as Tyler Florence (Wayfare Tavern) and Elizabeth Falkner (Orson, Citizen Cake) squared off against Jennifer Biesty (Scala’s Bistro) and Chris Cosentino (Incanto) in an Iron Chef-esque competition. Each team had an hour to create three dishes with the secret ingredient: American lamb. Each dish was judged on presentation, taste, and creativity on a scale from one to ten. The winning team received a ten piece cookware set from Anolon, the event sponsor.
Over the course of the hour, emcee and potential Ricky Gervais stand-in, Liam Mayclem charmed the crowd while poking fun at the chefs, particularly Chris Cosentino (apparently they’re neighbors). He even threw a jab my way for using a laptop during the contest. When he wasn’t cracking jokes at the chefs’ expense he handed the microphone over to audience members for questions.
Viewers had the opportunity to hear from the chefs on a variety of subjects, including their family lives, how they dealt with the rough economy, their new ventures (Cosentino is producing a line of expandable “gluttony pants”), and Tyler Florence’s…er…”sticky” experiences with delicacies such as whale sperm, courtesy of Morimoto. The chefs also provided occasional play-by-play, giving us insight into their thought processes. For example, Chris Cosentino discussed how he carved out each individual muscle in a leg of lamb and cooked them separately for one of his dishes because of how they differ in flavor and texture.
All veterans of either Iron Chef or Top Chef, the contestants were no strangers to competitive cookery. As the room filled with the aroma of lamb and rosemary, the chefs worked with intense concentration despite an early morning after a late night. When asked what the toughest part of the challenge was, Tyler Florence replied “the wake up call.”
Team Florence/Falkner’s first course was a new twist on brunch: Poached Eggs and Lamb Meatballs with Tomatoes and Smoked Olive Oil on Toast. For the second course they served a Lamb T-Bone with Fennel, Chili, Cucumber, and Figs. As expected, Elizabeth Falkner brought dessert, creating a Crepe with Lamb, Chocolate Ganache, and Flambéed Pluots.
Team Biesty/Cosentino started off with Lamb Tartare, which was chopped by Cosentino “the old-fashioned way” with dual-wielded cleavers while glaring at the event host, and accompanied with heirloom cucumbers, olives, capers, radish, celery and shallots. Their second course was roasted Lamb Bavette with an Heirloom Carrot Salad with Champagne Grapes, Mint and Arugula. They decided to replace sweet with savory, skipping dessert in favor of a Lamb Porterhouse with Corn Infused Polenta with Pepperonata.
Judges Georgeanne Brennan, Margo True (of Sunset) and Lynne Bennett (of the SF Chronicle) read their notes on each dish aloud after tasting, and were seemingly impressed with each of them. In fact, the judges did not have a negative word about any of the dishes. They did not release the scores, but announced Team Biesty/Cosentino as the winners by a close margin.
Photo Credit: Susie Biehler Photography